Canadian cannabis users risk losing Nexus passes

U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisors have been instructed to take away or deny passes to Canadian travellers who admit to using cannabis

Nexus pass application cannabis travel

Kylie Anderson/Unsplash


In the wake of legalization, Canadians have a lot of questions about travelling to the United States.

Even though some states have legalized or decriminalized cannabis, weed remains illegal under federal law, meaning Canadian travellers can be denied entry if they admit to having used cannabis or are in the cannabis industry and travelling on business.

Now it looks like people applying for Nexus passes could run into trouble if they cop to smoking up.

According to documents obtained by Global News, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supervisors have been instructed to take away or deny passes to cannabis users. The application for the pass, which allows pre-approved travellers to bypass lineups at border crossings, asks about a criminal record but does not ask about drug use, legal or illicit.

However, U.S. border supervisors must interrogate Nexus applicants and travellers regarding cannabis use. There are questions about prior drug use, operating a grow op and having a valid medical marijuana card, among others. The instructions say foreigners who admit to using pot are “technically admissible” but are ineligible for Nexus.

According to Statistics Canada, about 6.1 million Canadians used cannabis at least once in mid-2019, and there are close to 9,000 people working in the legal cannabis industry. What should they do when applying for a Nexus pass?

“There are a lot of exclusionary policies that have framed the history of immigration and trade between Canada and its neighbours,” explains Toronto-based lawyer Jerusha Stupart, who specializes in immigration. “The continued penalization of Canadians at the border especially in the wake of the 2018 legalization of cannabis does seem excessive.”

Stupart calls the Nexus interview process is a bit of a “trap,” but notes the core issue of the trusted program is ensuring that travellers are low risk.

The application process has created a heightened sense of urgency among potential Nexus applicants, who do not feel they are breaking the law. If an applicant is truthful during the Nexus interview process and admits to legal cannabis use in Canada (medically or recreationally), they could have their pass either taken away for life or their application denied.

As such, cannabis use could prove to be problematic for Canadian citizens who have been provided work visas and were unclear that their medical or recreational use could be used as a ground for refusal into the country.

“The persons who are deemed [low-risk] have been subjected to extensive background checks and they are usually persons who have had very limited interaction with law enforcement, or persons who are not associated with any breaches of immigration or criminal codes,” says Stupart. “The fact that previous or current cannabis use precludes some persons from eligibility to these programs automatically disqualifies them at a glance from these trusted travelers’ programs.”

In Stupart’s opinion, honesty is the best policy.

“The United States of America and Canada share criminal and other databases that make convictions and other public information easily accessible,” she says. “Your social media is accessible and more importantly the officer has the authority to even request a medical assessment to determine whether you are being honest about your non-usage of cannabis.

“If you are found to have been lying in your statements to customs and border officials you will be inadmissible based on misrepresentation grounds as well. Misrepresentation carries with it serious repercussions for future entry into either of these two neighbouring countries.”

Many believe the upcoming U.S. elections may have a strong impact on the cannabis policies since many states have legalization measures on the ballot.

President Donald Trump has taken a zero-tolerance approach to the border, and his administration terminated an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on individuals or trades in states where the drug is legal.

But until the political situation changes south of the border, those who have been denied can request an appeal.

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